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Welcome to the United Clicks of America

By Dan Speerin

“Please Like. Please Subscribe. Please Share. Please Donate. Just… Please”!

dan speerinI am an internet creator and this is my gospel.

My postal code may say Toronto, but I’m from the internet. When it comes to the fight between new and old media it’s not much of a question. I belong to the new generation of creators who are internet patriots, the ones who got left in the cold by traditional media.

Except I’ve become a bit skeptical of late. You see, in my line of work (political satire), it’s sort of part of the job description to question the ones we call patriots.

Mark Twain famously said “A Patriot is the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.” And Mark Twain never had to deal with Twitter.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing online platforms and creators. I even worked with MySpace (I’ll explain it you later, kids). In fact, I owe many of the breaks in my career to the internet. But like all good patriots, it’s time to question my country. For the creators who come after me, I think we have to ask – what’s next?

I was confronted with this very question at JFL42 in Toronto. I was on a panel about “the future” sitting next to American comedian Jonah Ray – one of the men behind the internet’s most popular brands Nerdist.

An audience member asked me a question about the future of Canadian content. Being the internet patriot I am, I gave a hopeful answer about the power of “niche audiences” and “crowd-funding” and said how exciting it is we no longer have to rely just on gatekeepers to build an audience. But I also pointed out the scary realities.

Things are changing fast, even for those of us who grew up in viral video. According to YouTube 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute. As one of the first “YouTube Partners” in 2007, I am one of a million creators in the program. Welcome to the new philosophical quandary of “If a Video is Uploaded To The Internet – Does anybody see it?”

All of this just scratches the surface of the modern struggle to be seen. Getting paid is a whole other story.

If you’re an online creator it takes about one million views per month to make minimum wage from YouTube ad revenue alone.

Yep, it sure beats stocking shelves but it’s also the reason why more and more superstar creators have sold or partnered their brands with “old media.”  Building an audience and creating videos three to five times a week is a grind and many, by age 30, feel the burnout. There’s another factor here too. If you’re doing anything more complicated than vlogging alone from your bedroom, the financing issue gets even more complicated.

According to the 2014 Nordicity industry profile for Ontario’s web series industry, 41% of web series creators received no revenue from their web series activity in 2013. While only 18% were able to draw on revenue from a previous series.  Yet 68% of respondents answered “personal savings” when asked what their primary source of financing was.

So how is living and dying by the click working out? You Won’t Believe THE ANSWER!

Welcome to “the art of asking” because the phrase “the art of begging loudly” is a harder Ted Talk to sell. A generation of creators raised on Sesame Street now often resembles those PBS pleas to “get Mommy and Daddy in the room or else Big Bird will disappear.” At some point almost all creators have become t-shirt salesman. It’s not easy juggling creativity and marketing and perhaps it shouldn’t be. But if this is what sustainable creation looks like when according to YouTube 100 hours of video gets uploaded every minute – what happens when that number increases? As it inevitably will.

The sheer apparatus one needs to win the “signal to noise” game is getting harder by the day for the kid alone in their bedroom. So, what about the future?

As I finished my response to the audience question at JFL42, Jonah Ray asked me one very important question – “Why not just [create stuff] about American culture?”

Of course the answer for a Canadian creator might be “Because I’m Canadian?” but as a citizen of the internet – it’s a fair question. And there’s the rub; an internet era that was supposed to erase borders has in many ways reinforced them. If I depend on clicks to build subscribers, and I hope subscribers turn into patrons of my crowd funding campaigns, how can I sustain my channel on the basis of a population equal to that of California? Especially when I need a million views per month to make minimum wage for just myself?

Jonah’s question wasn’t just a question – it’s also the old media strategy for many Canadian content creators in new media. Make something broad enough to get clicks in America and do your best to hide the CN Tower in the wide shot. Welcome to the United Clicks of America.  Bringing a whole new meaning to everything old is new again.

If the channel your generation used to watch Hollywood movies on had to use some of its profits to help the Canadian industry – why doesn’t the same premise hold true for my generation’s movie channel? If our local cable channels had to create a fund to create local programming – perhaps online platforms should make it easier for online creators to create our local stories too.

The present may be about “how we watch” but the future, much like the past, will be about “what we watch.” To let the new multi-million dollar companies off the hook because we want to win a superficial war on the old multi-million dollar companies may seem satisfying now. But what happens after the gold rush? The screens may have changed, but the wish to hear our stories hasn’t. We may be from the internet, but our stories are born in Canada and I think they should continue to be told.

Dan Speerin is a writer of comedy and satire for all size screens and is a ginger in his spare time. You can watch his daily web series here

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